Class was in session at 'Paws for a Cause'
April 10, 2018 / by Damian Cristodero
Bella the service dog, sat at her owner’s feet, silent and attentive.
George Mason University management major Dylan Arthur has had Bella for five years. A former Marines police officer, Arthur was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and four traumatic brain injuries after what he said was a hit-and-run car crash left him with a postcard-sized titanium plate on the left side of his skull.
When Arthur’s PTSD symptoms are triggered, Bella acts as an interrupter and puts a paw on Arthur, licks his face or jumps on him. “Anything to reel me in,” Arthur said.
But Bella, a black Lab-shepherd-husky mix, is a cutie, and strangers often pet her without asking permission, despite that her vest indicates she is a working dog and says “do not pet.”
“And as soon as somebody does that,” Arthur said, “her focus is gone, and she can’t do her job, and that puts my health in jeopardy.”
So Arthur, with the help of George Mason’s office of Disability Services and the Student Health Advisory Board, put together “Paws for a Cause” to educate students, faculty and staff how best to interact with service, therapy and emotional support animals.
“This is like my going-away gift to Mason,” said Arthur, who will graduate in May with plans to open a business with his father refurbishing classic cars. “I would be happy to help set this up again in the future because I believe that continuing this type of education is important to having a well-rounded community.”
“We’re trying to educate the Mason community,” said Jason Northrup, associate director of Disability Services. “We’re seeing more and more students come to campus requesting to have emotional support animals with them in the dorms. We want students, faculty and staff to have a better understanding of when service animals come into the classroom, what guides that.”
Northrup said there are 10-20 registered emotional support animals on campus.
Ten dogs provided by Caring Angels, Sit Means Sit and Summit Therapy Animal Services were at “Paws for a Cause” in front of the Johnson Center on April 3, and each attracted a crowd.
“This is when we get to tell people to ask if you can pet the dog,” said Madeline Saylor, a dog handler with Caring Angels. “If the handler says no, then it’s no. It makes a difference when you tell them how to interact.”
Kira Bazemore, a freshman statistics major, agreed.
“I was not aware at all,” she said. “I will definitely be careful in the future. They’re doing a job. They’re not just somebody’s pet.”
Kristine Neuber, an IT accessibility coordinator at Mason, has a Goldendoodle service dog, Grady, who helps manage Neuber’s cerebral palsy with mobility support and by picking up dropped items.
“This is wonderful,” she said of the event. “I’m excited about it, and [Grady] is having a great time because he gets to meet people rather than just staying focused.”
Ultimately, though, focus on its owner is paramount for a service dog.
“Because nobody is petting her or contacting her, she can focus on me,” Arthur said of Bella.
As Arthur’s T-shirt explained: “PTSD does not mean ‘pet the service dog.’ ”